Ranked again

By Jamie Hellewell

You are attending one of the worst universities in the country. At least that’s what the Maclean’s annual University Ranking issue released Nov. 16 suggests.

The University of Calgary placed 12th out of 15 in the overall rankings for medical/doctoral schools-a small step up from last year’s 13th place finish.

Admitedly, the report wasn’t all bad news for the U of C. In several areas it scored quite high, including third place finishes for percentage of total budget allocated both to scholarships/bursaries and to student services. It also ranked high in the section that measures the reputation of the university among high school guidance counselors, university academics and Chief Executive Officers from across Canada.

But despite a few bright spots, there is little in the Maclean’s report for the U of C to celebrate. Here are a few of the lowest ranked areas:

  • Proportion of students entering the U of C with 75 per cent or higher grade averages: 14th place at 69.2 per cent (top 10 all above 80 per cent).
  • Proportion of students who graduate within a year of the expected graduation date: 15th at 56.8 per cent (the next lowest was 73 per cent).
  • Proportion of students who won student awards: 14th at 3.8 per 1,000 students.
  • Class sizes for first- and second-year courses: 14th (though somewhat better for third- and fourth-year).
  • Faculty: 13th for proportion of faculty with PhD; 14th for number of awards per full-time professors.
How has the U of C reacted to these results?

"I wasn’t surprised, but I’m very disappointed that the results are just accepted," said Students’ Union President Paul Galbraith. "People of Calgary should be shocked and outraged that the richest city in the richest province of the country stands for having such a low-ranking university."

U of C President Terry White feels very differently about the results. He accused the Maclean’s report of using unfair criteria to evaluate the universities.

"The criteria Maclean’s uses favours old-fashion, traditional, elitist universities," said White. "I’m not really surprised by our ranking given our vision to stay in touch with the community we serve. Maclean’s gives high marks to universities that take only the very best students; we want other students to have a chance."

White says that the U of C is also penalized for trying to offer innovative programs for non-traditional students, including working and single-parent students.

"Maclean’s expects students to complete their degree in four years," said White, "but 70 per cent of our students work part-time or full-time. That’s why we offer Weekend University and on-line degrees."

White also criticized the method Maclean’s used for tabulating research grant totals, which only counts money received from public sources.

"We have a higher proportion of private funding than anyone else in the country," said White.

These criticisms are off-base according to Maclean’s Assistant Managing Editor Ann Dowsett-Johnston.

"The argument by Terry White that they [U of C] are accessible and therefore are getting knocks has become the party line of those who rank badly," said Johnston.

She challenged White to answer these questions about U of C students:

"Do you keep them in small classes? Do you give them tenured PhD faculty? Do you provide up-to-date library service?

"Everyone has a wish list of what they would like to see measured," said Johnston, adding that Maclean’s must look at every university using the same criteria.

"Terry White was head of Brock [University] when the ranking was designed and agreed that we should look at universities on a level playing field," said Johnston. "Terry White should quit speaking out of both sides of his mouth."

As for the methods used to tabulate grants, Johnston said there was no way to calculate or police the amount of private research dollars universities claimed to receive.

Galbraith didn’t agree with White’s arguments either.

"If a university is at the top of the list, they are there for a reason; like any survey it [MacLean’s] has some problems, but it is fundamentally an accurate ranking system," he said.

Galbraith blames underfunding by the provincial government for the U of C’s poor performance.

"It’s about time this province made investing in post-secondary education a priority. We can only live on oil money and Video Lottery Terminals for so long," he said.

Galbraith points to several of the indicators in the Maclean’s ranking that should concern U of C students.

"The faculty was once one of the brightest, most innovative faculties in the country, but we’ve lost many great professors," said Galbraith. He added that the fact that salaries have dropped from third to 21 in the country makes professors difficult to replace, and pointed to the class size numbers as significant.

"The provincial government wants to pack the U of C like a sardine can, without accepting the consequences of reduced quality," he said.

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